ightclub lighting, pumping music, a rockstar instructor, intervals and sweat. This is Climb to the Beat, Europe’s first Versaclimber class, and it’s going down a storm.
Alex Nicholl, director of Sweat by BXR at boutique London club BXR London, has devised this party on a climber and he reckons it could become as big as cycling.
Nicholl got the inspiration while he was working out on the Versaclimber, he tells HCM. “I really like the Versaclimber as a tool because it burns lots of calories, but isn’t high impact, so I use it as a rehab tool for running. While I was climbing I realised that I could build a class around it.”
To be picked up by one of London’s most happening boutiques – BXR is boxer Anthony Joshua’s swanky new club in Chiltern Street, opposite the Chiltern Firehouse – is great news for a piece of kit that hasn’t been seen around so much lately.
Versaclimbers first made their appearance in the US almost 40 years ago, and they were big in the 80s. Versaclimber UK launched in 1994, but despite providing an effective, total-body workout, the machines have often played second fiddle to treadmills and bikes and have never taken off for group fitness.
Zero impact calorie burn
But bringing the Versaclimber into a group training setting could be exactly the tool to stoke interest. The workout is extremely effective, zero impact and allows the body to burn calories without the stress or trauma that other dynamic exercise, like running and HIIT can sometimes cause.
“Because you’re standing on the climber it’s also better for posture than being on a bike and it’s great for calorie burn,” says Nicholl. “Our backgrounds are in nightclubs, music and hospitality, so we use this experience to create the atmosphere. We use a nightclub-spec sound system and a routine that is choreographed to the music, so people climb to the beat. It’s hard work, but fun, and suitable for all levels and abilities. The more you do, the better you become.”
Director of Versaclimber UK, Neil Kelford, welcomes the introduction of the equipment into a group setting. “While these sessions help to improve cardiovascular fitness, they also provide a stimulating environment for users to exercise by incorporating music, lights and large groups of people to help motivate your training. This is a vital factor that is often missing from training programmes,” he explains.
As a club, BXR offers four different types of training: climbing, mobility, boxing, and strength and conditioning. With plans to extend the estate with five more sites over the next two to three years, Nicholl says the climbing classes will stay central to the offering as the company grows.
The classes are popular. BXR runs 35 each week, with a capacity of 20 people and they have an average 90 per cent occupancy. A number of options are on offer: a single class is priced at £30, but investment in a pack of 50 brings the price per class down to £15, while opting for a membership of the club can reduce the cost to £6 per class.
In addition to Climb to the Beat, BXR also offers an endurance class, which pushes those who have mastered the technique to their limits. It’s an eight week continuous programme, designed to build endurance climbing ability, with the option of taking part in a challenge called The Vertical Mile: a 5,280ft climb with a cut-off time of 40 minutes.
The Performance classes mimic sessions used by professional athletes to increase their anaerobic threshold and VO2 max output and is part of the ‘train like an athlete’ trend.
Polar heart rate monitors, weighted vests, altitude masks and HIIT training methods all feature in this programme, which is designed to improve cardiovascular capability.
In the US, celebrity trainer, Jason Walsh, has also devised an immersive Versaclimbing group exercise experience at Rise Nation, in West Hollywood. The 30 minute class involves intervals in a specially-created, stimulating environment.
The irregular surface of the ceiling invokes the feeling of being under a rocky outcrop and is animated with an array of internal LEDs. The lights are programmed to accompany the soundtracks, including simple fades and fields of lighting.
“I wanted to put something on the market which I thought was truly effective, efficient and safe. I think climbing has been overlooked until now, because nobody knew how to use it in a group class training setting,” Walsh tells HCM. “Climbing uses all the muscles in the body and is safe, while being highly effective. Our class is a good alternative to everything else on the market and appeals to men and women alike. Lighting, music and amazing instructors all add to the experience.”
Kelford welcomes both concepts: “I think they’re both incredibly effective, but most importantly they’re fun and provide a special group training setting where you can exercise with friends, while benefitting from an intensive workout. This is such an important aspect to training, as it can provide crucial motivation, especially when clubs are aiming to appeal to a wider audience.”
So where is this trend likely to go? Nicholls says there are a few barriers: at £5,000 per climber, it’s a sizeable investment to set up a studio. Also he says Versaclimbers still lag behind other cardio kit in terms of technology and provision of data, although improvements are currently being made.
Kelford says that the introduction of Bluetooth consoles will soon allow workout data to be transferred to iPhone or Android, so that people will be able to store, share, keep and compare statistics for future training, while new display technology has also created a far more interactive, in-depth analysis for users to track their progress, so Versaclimber will be able to compete on a level playing field.